13 Emailing Tips
Your starting point when writing email
1. Your aim should be to … Write and format your email to maximise the ease/speed with which your audience can read, digest and action your email.
2. How to get your email dealt with – When many people get back from holiday they have hundreds of emails to attend. Beyond those of high priority, they are drawn first to those whose format makes them quick to digest and action – and they defer action on those that look like hard work. Write your emails as though you wanted that positive reaction from your receiver.
3. Stay on top of your email Inbox –use tools such as reminders (flag, priority etc.) and order things like you would paper files with folders for different subjects, etc. Try and only ‘touch’ an email once: Deal with it, Defer, Delegate or Delete (4Ds). Spend some time managing your inbox eg each day/ week.
4. Avoid being overload with email – Opt out of being cc’d into emails you don’t need, avoid sending one-line emails, where possible signpost people to documents (eg on an intranet etc.) rather than sending lots of attachments. Do these yourself, or ideally encourage a wider adoption of a policy on them across your office.
The challenges of writing emails
5. P.E.S.T. – Pressure of work means we are sometimes overly hasty – Emotions slip out in our writing, and are hard to convey accurately (so watch out) – the Seductiveness of emails means we waste time checking our Inbox, expect answers immediately, and send emails without checking etc. – email Technology is dangerous: it is easy to make mistakes re forwarding content, forget attachments, and for our mistakes to be on record.
6. Using the phone is sometimes the answer – For example where subjects are Delicate, Complex or have multiple Permutations, and where you are Anxiety/uncertain, or Emotions are involved (PACED).
7. Be slow to judge and react – Many people get 50+ emails per day, so they don’t have much time to deal with your email, they want emails to be clearly spelt out, etc. Your receiver might be someone like this, so give them the benefit of the doubt when they misunderstand or don’t reply, etc.
8. Proofread/Double-check your content – Before sending a long or difficult email, leave it a while, run it past colleagues, read it aloud, etc. ‘Aim to be not just possible to understand, but impossible to misunderstand.’ This is especially true when you are asking people to do things.
9. Some people work (and email) differently – Be prepared, you might find that you have a colleague who writes email in an unfortunate tone of voice, sends several emails where others would only send one, engages in ping-pong email, cc’s in loads of other people to emails, responds without thinking, etc. Have a polite word with them before things escalate.
Tips on how to structure
10. Three-part structure – Split your emails into three parts: (1) The context/What you are emailing about; (2) The content – which might be several paragraphs long; (3) A Summary/conclusion, or what you want the receiver to do, and by when.
11. Grab receiver’s attention – Take advantage of the fact that people’s attention is greatest when they first start reading something, be it a book, article, letter, or email. So, really use your opening paragraph to eg draw receiver’s attention to an email if it is high priority, apologise if it is a long/complicated email, etc. Get your receivers’ support before they get into the main content.
12. Use clear and concise subject lines – This will help get your email read and actioned soon, and retrieved easily at a later date. Update them when necessary.
Guidance on writing style
13. Writing style – Good writing has been described as reading as though the author was talking to you – that’s something to aim for. Watch out for being too formal (which is a tendency, but creates barriers) and also too lax (not everyone likes emoticons etc.). In your salutations and sign-offs, echo the tone/style used by the person you are emailing. Respect seniority and different cultures.